Clifton is significant because it was built and used by Thomas Mann Randolph (Jr) (1768-1828) who served as Governor of Virginia, a member of the Virginia House of Delegates, member of the U.S. Congress and was son-in-law of Thomas Jefferson (married to Jefferson’s daughter Martha). Randolph and several partners planned the town of North Milton directly across the river adjacent to the Milton canal that supported agricultural commerce in the Albemarle region. Thomas Mann Randolph built the office at Clifton around 1799. It was originally a place for him to conduct business in trade. It is likely that the old stone foundations of the present Clifton main house were those of a warehouse later converted to private use.
It was at Clifton that Thomas Mann Randolph spent time away from family while Martha served as Jefferson’s hostess at Monticello. In his later years (1826), the Clifton office became Randolph’s brooding refuge when he learned his son Thomas Jefferson Randolph had been appointed executor of Thomas Jefferson’s will (in part because Thomas Mann Randolph was so much in debt). In March of 1828, in failing health and low spirits, Randolph moved from his ”Clifton office” to Monticello, to live in seclusion again in the North Pavilion. He died there, four months later, on June 20, 1828.
The original property was part of 2400 acres granted to William Randolph in 1735. The land passed from William Randolph to his son Thomas Mann Randolph (Sr) and then to his son also called Thomas Mann Randolph (Jr). Upon the central parcel of the land, the Randolph’s built their home, and called the property Edgehill. The property surrounding Clifton descended from land that was on the boundary of the Randolph’s’ holdings, along the Rivanna River.
1830- Thomas Jefferson Randolph sold to Fontaine Wells
1835- Fontaine Wells sold to Stapleton C. Sneed
1851- Stapleton C. Sneed sold 305 acres to Richard Wyatt for $8,000
The Wyatt family cemetery is located in a small yard behind the brick office. It is likely that Colonial Richard Wyatt, owner from 1851 – 1891 is buried in this area, but little else is presently known of other graves. Wyatt named the property “Clifton” during his residence. In 1870 Ida May Wyatt, who had grown up at Clifton, married her cousin Joseph Marion Wyatt at Clifton.
During the Civil War the wife and children of Colonel John Singleton Mosby, the “Grey Ghost of the Confederacy” sought refuge at Clifton after being driven from their home near Middleburg. When Union troops were in the area, Mosby would deliver supplies to a secret hiding place outside the main house.
1891- Richard Wyatt heirs sold 305 acres called” Clifton” to J. Cummings McKennie for $3,000
Grantors reserve the family burying ground with access for purpose of burial and attention to the grave yard.
From 1900 through the mid 1980′s, Clifton changed hands several times to 15 different private residential owners (during the Depression, the house defaulted and sold at an auction), until 1983 when current Clifton owners T. Mitchell and Emily B. Willey purchased it. The house and outbuildings are now situated on a 95 acre lot including the adjoining “Collina Farm” which extends to Rt 250. The manor house is an example of federal and colonial revival style architecture. Additions were made on all sides of the original five-room 44’x8’ dwelling sometime between 1833 and 1846. The southern wing was enlarged and second story added with box columns on the front of Clifton in the 1920’s. What is now the back of the Inn was originally the front. The property on the south of the main house is terraced in seven levels which descend toward the Rivanna River. To the East are the liveries now converted to guest rooms, and down the hill from there is “Lake Leanna”. A low slate rubble wall surrounds the house and its immediate garden and outbuildings. On the North toward the pool and tennis court are a gazebo that covers the rock lined pit of the original ice house, and in the valley stands the stone remains of the old spring house. In the winter the house commands a wide view of the Rivanna River and the rolling hills that surround Monticello and Carters Mountain.
Clifton remained a private residence until 1985 when it was restored by its current owner and opened as a five-room bed and breakfast. Historic dependencies on the estate were restored over several years to create additional guest accommodations and the restaurant was opened to the public in 1991 forming what is now the Relais & Châteaux Inn.